Church Leadership


Breathing heavy and full of adrenaline I stood up from the knee deep waves among the kids and did a 180. With a massive smile I began the long push through the surf back to my fellow bobbing boogie boarders.

It was a Sunday afternoon at Torrey Pines. One of my favorite beaches doing one of my favorite things.

Smiles were ear-to-ear among this pod of boogie boarders, basking in the late Sunday afternoon glow the with warm summer breezes, the water temperature had finally risen to the point where you could stay in indefinitely without shivering.

The swell was building. We all felt it. In our group were a wide variety of skill levels. Experts with nice boards and fins running circles around all of us. Beginners on their $20 boards that weren’t quite the right size. And me, a midwesterner who loved it but resides firmly in the novice category.

Typically, I don’t like to go off shore beyond where I can touch the bottom. My technique is typically to wade out and position myself near where the waves break so that I can move “hop on” a wave rather than paddle and drop in. But the waves have drawn me out here, floating and chatting alongside all the other giddy riders.

We’d all caught enough waves. We were just lined up at the dessert table waiting for something fantastic to happen. In truth, the waves had already been too big for me and I’d been lucky to duck the ones that broke weird and hop on some fantastic rides.

I was way beyond my skill level. I felt it. But the allure of nice, pretty waves, warm water, and my success pulled me out where I didn’t belong. I was trying not to think about

A few minutes later one of the more advanced guys said, “Here they come!” About the same time one of the guys girlfriends said, “Hey, I can touch the bottom.” We all knew that this meant that the next set was going to be big. Most of us got off our boards and stood up, watching where the first waves in this set broke.

I was in the perfect spot. I ducked and let a couple of big waves break over me. And I was feeling pressure not to let this big set go by. I could tell by the excitement level of the better boarders that the next wave was the best one. Judging by the massive size of some of the other ones, which were way taller than me, the best one had to be ridiculous.

And there it was. I ducked a wave and looked up… it was rolling in. The best guys missed it, they were too deep. But I’m there, standing in the sand with my board up against my chest. As it approached me I felt like it was too big. But I had only a split second to turn and dive under it before it broke on top of me. Instead I hesitated. It was too late, I had to go or get rolled.

Pushing off the sand just as this massive wave started to release I could feel the waves massive power. But I was a fraction of a second late. And I was about five feet too far to the right… I was on the waves but in the wrong spot.

It’s hard to imagine how fast I was going… Imagine a fat dude on a boogie board going 30 miles per hour propelled by the biggest wave of the day. It’s a scary thing to imagine and an even scarier thing to experience. The first half seconds were perfect, I cut into it and was flying by as all the other boogie boarders and swimmers ducked as it went by.

In the next instant I was crushed.

The wave collapsed on top of me. I was completely powerless against it’s power. It shoved me to the bottom then flipped me and rolled me and held me under water. It didn’t just roll me side-to-side, my head hit the bottom then my knees then my head. Water rushed into my sinus cavities causing me to gag under water.

It’s a horrible helpless feeling.

Finally, it released me. I felt like I’d been spit out of Jonah’s whale. And I was back in knee deep water among the kids and moms and floaties.

The best leaders are powerless

There’s a silent allure to power in leadership. Early success leads us over our head. But we quickly find ourselves out deeper than our skill level.

We mislabel fear as following. We mislabel position as authority. We mislabel obedience as respect. But behind the mask of many “strong leaders” are very scared little boys. They’ve created a puffed up thing, manipulative, terrified, and tired. Others have mislabeled it as leadership.

Lord, make us powerless leaders who lead with love. Amen.



Here’s a little lesson on hype for all my wanna-be self-promoter friends.

If you hype something you’ve got a vested interest in it’ll come off as fake.

If someone else hypes it for you, even if you lose some level of control, it’ll go a lot better.

Three examples:

  • I follow hundreds of pastors on Twitter and Facebook. (Totally guilty as charged) They are all excited about what they are teaching and think hundreds of people should invite their friends to come hear them speak. Their band is gonna melt your face. Their preaching is going to be super cool. They’ve got an illustration that’ll make every knee bow and tongue declare that Jesus is Lord.
  • Lots of people I know have written books or created a product you can buy. (Again, guilty as charged) There’s a fine line for an author between being accessible as an author and overhyping your product.
  • Each day I write a blog post. If I post a link more than twice, the click through rate on that to my blog goes straight to zero. Knowing that it drives me nuts to see bloggers post a link, 8-10 times per day to their blog.

You need recommendations

Times have changed. It used to be that having access to an author or a speaker somehow validated their message. But now, since everyone is instantly accessible that is no longer the case. In many case the best way to hype something is to limit access to the creation process. (Apple is the master of this, all the hype is in the speculation)

Think about your actual decision-making process. Take a few minutes to do some self-examination. I think what you’ll see is the power of recommendation. A recommendation is infinitely more powerful in my day-to-day life than hype.

  • I rarely go to a restaurant for the first time without checking Yelp or asking about a place… unless I want to discover something so I can recommend it.
  • Wander through the maze of a bookstore. The average Borders will have 100,000+ titles. You wouldn’t have a clue what to read if it weren’t for recommendations.
  • Think about the products over $100 you buy. Or the places you take your kids. Or the things you try at work. Now think about how you heard about those things or knew it was worth putting your name behind.

Right now, it’s all about recommendations.

If you want to (or need to) hype something, focus all your energy on recommendations. And stop with the self-hype.

Harbor Mid-City youth ministry

Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

Here’s my notes from the youth group talk tonight. Feel free to use them however you’d like.

Title: Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?
Passage: John 1

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Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Power of Fear

Up until fourth grade I lived in the city of South Bend on one of those quintessential small town streets where everyone knew everyone, kids played outside until the street lights came on, we all played at one anothers house, and we were all one happy family. Summer was all about riding bikes, fireworks, BBQs, swimming in Doug’s pool, endless games of football, and weekends at the lake. Winter was endless fort building and snow ball fights while avoiding shoveling the walk. At least, that’s how I remember it. I loved my street growing up. It was a safe place to play with friends.

Until the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade year.

One day I was riding my bike with a friend when we spotted something no kid could resist… wet concrete. The city had paved our street and replaced the concrete that went around a sewer grate right in the middle of my street, just a few doors from my house. The traffic cones were like syrens calling a weary sailor. We left our bikes in the grass, grabbed some sticks, and dashed for the land of the forbidden.

The first thing we did was write our names. Then, my friend started furiously writing cuss words. He was number four in an Irish-Catholic family of seven. With two older brothers and a fire chief father he magically knew millions of cuss words and how to spell them. Not to be left out I spelled out the only cuss word I was confident I could spell: Dam.

Proud of our vandalism we grabbed our bikes and took off to the park. Within minutes we had completely forgotten about our misdemeanor and moved on to other dubious acts like racing empty beer bottles down the slides and ghost riding our bikes down the hill of death.

The next day, on my way over to the same friends house, I circled my bike around that sewer drain to see how things turned out. I was fixated on my name. “Adam.” How cool was that? Forever in the lore of Tonti Street everyone would know that I had placed my name on that sewer. One day, archeologists would dig up our block and they’d know that Adam lived there. I was an instant legend.

Ecstatic, I jumped back on my bike. As I got a few pedals away, with my pride cutting through the summer air like a bottle rocket, I heard my name called out. I turned around to see one of the old geezers coming off his covered porch and waving me to come over to him. Our block was a mix of old timers and young families who had bought homes from estates of their former neighbors. I wheeled my bike around to gain momentum and sailed up his driveway to his front steps. Surely, he had seen my street art and wanted to congratulate the artist.

I was dead wrong. While I had seen him mow his lawn and trim his bushes I had never talked to this man before. His size and demeanor were intimidating. He came down his steps with a limp and put his giant hand on my 7 year old shoulder. I remember looking up at him but not seeing much further than the anchor tattoo of the Navy on his forearm. Every sensor in my brain was telling me to run. I was convinced that he was going to grab me and pull me into his garage where he’d chop me up with his hedge clippers.

Son, I see you and your friend wrote in that concrete yesterday. You know you wrote some bad things and you’re going to have to clean that up somehow.” 25 years later and I still have no idea how he expected me to erase words from hard concrete. A jackhammer was simply not in the arsenal of a 7 year old. “If you don’t take care of that I’m going to tell your mom.” If his firm grip on my shoulder hadn’t scared me, the threat of telling my mom that I wrote “dam” in concrete on our street sent my flight instinct over the top. I wiggled my way free, jumped on my bike, and got out of there.

The Power of Fear

Those 15 seconds put more fear into me than I had never experienced. Worse yet, I was now deathly afraid to go anywhere near that man’s house… and he lived 4 doors down and across the street! The sanctuary of my block came tumbling down. I had constant nightmares starring that man. He was my Frankenstein. I still remember a recurring dream where I woke up hearing his voice on my front porch talking to my mom. In the dream I ran downstairs with a John Rambo-styled machine gun and peppered him with bullets until he completely disappeared. As a young child living halfway between reality and fantasy, all of my fantasies had me as a superhero and him as the villain.

It’s amazing how 15 seconds of fear can terrorize you for years.

The effect of this fear was actualized in my behavior. From that day forward I never went down that side of the street unless I was convinced he was gone. If I didn’t see his car drive away I was certain he sat on his porch staring at me, waiting for his moment to get me once and for all.

I began riding my bike down the alley so as to avoid his glare. When school began, I didn’t go out the front door anymore, instead I climbed over the back fence and cut through neighbors yards to meet up with classmates for the walk to school. Halloween? Forget about it. I went to friends houses. On and on it went for more than two years. Those 15 seconds of terror changed how I felt about where I lived.

A couple of years later my mom told us we were moving from the city to the suburbs. While my brother was upset that he’d lose all of his friends I was happy to start over and get away from the scary old neighbor. Little did I know that the dark streets of suburbia had their own things to be afraid of… but that’s another story for another time.

My point here is that fear, no matter how irrational at times, often leads us to action. Sometimes that action is good, it protects us, while other times it leads us to do weird things like climbing fences to avoid the glare of an old man. Sometimes they are based in something imagined. While other times fears are based on something very real.

Fear is one of the root motivators of all of our actions. If you serve in ministry… getting to the bottom of what you are afraid of helps you a lot. More importantly, building trust with people so that they will share their fears will help you discover how to best serve them.